By Stacey Harrison
The geeks may have inherited the Earth, but so far they have yet to conquer reality TV.
That will change if a new decree about to be handed down from one of their patron saints takes hold. Kevin Smith, the director of such sacred geek scripture as Clerks, Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, is invading the small screen with Comic Book Men, an AMC series debuting Feb. 12 that will chronicle the personalities and transactions that populate Secret Stash, Smith’s Red Bank, N.J., comic book store.
Incorporating elements of such reality staples as Pawn Stars and Hoarders, Comic Book Men will show collectors coming into the store and trying to buy or sell items like rare comics, vintage action figures and various other bits of “geek ephemera.” Each episode will be bookended by filmed podcast segments, featuring Smith and his friends who work at the store, sharing anecdotes that viewers will then see played out over the next hour.
Comic Book Men fits well within the pattern laid out by Smith’s unlikely career, which began in 1994 after he scraped together $27,000 — partially raised through selling his old comic books, no less — to film Clerks in the convenience store where he worked.
“Twenty years ago, even before I made Clerks, me and my friends Walter and Bryan would sit around and talk about, ‘Could you imagine if they did this as a comic book movie?’ or ‘Could you imagine if you got to do this?’ And suddenly we’re in a world where now they get to talk about comics on TV,” Smith says. “It’s mind-bending to say the least.”
Smith will appear on camera in the wraparound segments — about 10 to 15 minutes per episode, he estimates — but the bulk of the show will be focused on his longtime cohorts who run the shop. Folks like Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Brian Quinn (who can also be seen on truTV’s Impractical Jokers), Ming Chen and Mike Zapcic, all of whom are featured on the popular podcast “Tell Em Steve-Dave,” which runs on Smith’s Smodcast website.
This wasn’t the original plan, however. A film crew had followed the Secret Stash gang to produce a presentation reel to give AMC a feel for what the show could be, but the idea was then to eventually put out a nationwide call to find the proper venue and characters to feature on the final product. That changed once Smith’s friends did their thing.
“[The film crew] was like, ‘Dude, this is the show! Your friends are the show. Never mind going to find a crew. Dude, your comic book store, with these guys, they’re entertaining!’” Smith says. “So suddenly they were off to the races with my friends, which I loved, because now I get to tune in once a week and watch my friends on TV. It’s so strange!”
Adding to the thrill of seeing people he knows talking about something he loves, Smith will see them do it on what he says is his favorite network. He compares AMC’s impact on TV to that of Miramax on indie film in the 1990s.
“It’s where everybody wants to be, and to have the show wind up there, dude, that’s a boon. You feel lucky. It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t even have to pretend to whore for this network! I like this network, man!’” he says. “The only thing I got against our show being on AMC is that it’s such a classy network and our show is so not, that I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re hurtin’ the AMC.’ The fan in me who loves AMC is like, ‘How can the network that did Mad Men also do this?’ But as the guy who’s behind [Comic Book Men], I’m like, ‘Well, they love storytelling and that’s what this is about.’”
Photo: © 2011 Watershed Visual Media. Credit: David M. Russell/AMC